Jewish survivors of child abuse and/or neglect often have no other choice but to leave the families and communities they grew up in. This is especially true for those who grew up in an ultra-orthodox, insulated community. Many of these survivors have shared that they believed they had no other option -- or else they would have end up using drugs or giving up on life.
For Jewish survivors who grew up in secluded, insulated environments going “Off The Derech" (OTD) is like moving to another universe. Many of these survivors often do not know how to read or write in English, have very little education in secular studies, have never watched TV, gone to the movies, let alone used the internet. So even though this select group of people grew up in the United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Israel or any other country considered to be a part of western civilization –– they have no idea how to live in the secular world. Most have also never had friends from outside of their own communities.
Considering all of these facts, survivors who are OTD face many challenges. Leaving everything you know and love can feel devastatingly painful, especially because many have never learned how to identify, process or cope with their thoughts and feelings.
GOING OFF THE DERECH CAN FEEL:
EXTREMELY PAINFUL, especially when a survivor realize’s that their own thought processes are different then those who live within their communities they were born.
EXTREMELY PAINFUL when a survivor starts to believe what they were taught was the truth –– begins to have cracks and they no longer can believe what they see as being falsehoods and or lies.
EXTREMELY PAINFUL when a survivors who has gone OTD, realizes their beliefs in God (higher power) are different then their parents, other family members or that of their communities. The same is true for the OTD survivor who realizes they no longer believe in God.
EXTREMELY PAINFUL when an OTD survivor realizes that the community leaders and or family members they loved and trusted implicitly –– who taught them never to question authority –– were actually manipulating the survivor along with other community members.
EXTREMELY PAINFUL when an OTD survivor believes they have been deceived –– that what they were taught was true Judaism was not, instead the begin to realize the dogma they were taught was nothing more then cult like propaganda.
EXTREMELY PAINFUL when a survivor going OTD realizes individuals who grew up in other communities are not "bad, evil, liars, cheaters or deceivers". The OTD survivors starts to realize that individuals who come from other movements within Judaism or who are not even Jewish are people just like themselves.
EXTREMELY PAINFUL AND CONFUSING when a survivor realizes their faith in God hasn't changed - only their trust in their rebbe, family and or their community has.
EXTREMELY PAINFUL AND CONFUSING when a survivors starts to ask questions or verbalize their thoughts and feelings about how the community is ran. Once a survivor reaches this point they are often accused by family members, friends and or other community members of being problematic, a trouble maker, psychologically disturbed or even dangerous.
EXTREMELY PAINFUL when OTD survivors starts to be shamed, blamed, isolated and by lifelong friends, family members and or other community members –– because the survivor can no longer “play the game”.
EXTREMELY PAINFUL to a survivor who is in the process of going OTD –– when they realize that the love and acceptance provided by family members and community leaders was conditional –– “as long as they did what they were told to do when they were told to do it”.
EXTREMELY PAINFUL for the OTD survivor when they reach the point that it is nearly impossible to cope with this extremely deep infectious wound -- bubbling up inside them –– when trying to suppress it all doesn’t work anymore. Let alone the survivors attempts at trying to forget hat happened to them doesn’t work.
EXTREMELY PAINFUL for the OTD survivor when they realize they have to leave the only home and or community they have ever known. How does walk away from family members, your children, your friends, etc.?
IT’S EXTREMELY PAINFUL to see the looks of hatred coming from the faces of those you –– to hear the deafening silence when you try and talk to those you love –– when they no longer return phone calls. It’s extremely painful when you try and give a close relative a hug and push you away or stand like a statue, pretending you aren't there. It’s incredibly painful when those you love looks at you as if you were the most evil person on the planet and they teach your siblings children, nieces and nephews and cousins to hate you.
EXTREMELY PAINFUL AND CONFUSING to know that the survivor has no other choice but to start their lives all over again. Often survivors feel they have betrayed, disillusioned, and then become very suspicious of everyone including family, friends and other community members who might be trying to offer them support.
EXTREMELY PAINFUL when a OTD survivor find themselves feeling guilty or ashamed of where they grew up, the beliefs they were taught –– and/or the fact they have no other option but to walk away. Survivors in these types of situations often feel depressed, confused, lonely and isolated. It makes perfect sense that they might find it difficult to make decisions -- especially for those who never had to do this before -- because everything was decided for them by their rebbe or other community leaders.
EXTREMELY PAINFUL when a OTD survivor first walks away and has so much time on their hands. Prior to leaving their communities their lives were consumed with family responsibilities, learning, Jewish rituals and prayer. Now survivors have to find other things to do with themselves, which can leave them feeling guilty –– for not doing what they were taught to –– or even guilty for discovering new hobbies, which were thought to be sinful in their previous life.
EXTREMELY PAINFUL for OTD survivors on shabbos or yom tovim. These are times in which family and friends gather. Survivors may find themselves alone with no where to go or friends to be with.
EXTREMELY PAINFUL at times when an OTD survivor feels as if they lost touch with reality or their feelings go numb. Often survivors go through periods of time where they feel as if they are just "floating" –– and at times consider going back to the security they felt living within a cultish community or cult involved family.
EXTREMELY PAINFUL when a survivor feels all alone and isolated. They don’t believe that anyone in the outside world can understand what they are experiencing. It’s also extremely scary when an OTD survivor feel that their sense of self confidence and self worth are almost non-existent.
EXTREMELY PAINFUL for the OTD survivor who grew up outside the frum world, when they realize that they gave up everything for a cultish lifestyle –– giving up on such as your continuing their education, career, finances, friends, families, etc.
EXTREMELY PAINFUL after leaving the cultish community, when an OTD survivor has to explain voided time in their work history when job seeking. They may also find they have no other choice but to go back to school to further their education after time away from their studies.
EXTREMELY PAINFUL for a person who grew up outside of the religious world who walked away, to explain all those missing years to your friends and family. It’s also difficult to hear from those who love you “I told you so”.
EXTREMELY PAINFUL for the OTD survivor who grew up secular to realize that they had been deceived, that they alone were responsible for being taken in. These survivors may feel stupid, used and feel ashamed that they wasted so much of their time, energies and money living within the quasi-frum world.
IT’S EXTREMELY PAINFUL TO LEAVE THE FRUM WORLD
Walking away from a religious community is very similar to pain experienced when someone in your family dies or that of a close friend. It’s also not uncommon for OTD survivors to feel like they have been used or betrayed.
Many individuals who loose not only their families and communities, but a lifestyle go through a huge grieving process –– just as one would grieving a death.
There are no instant cures for the sense of loss, inability to trust, feelings of guilt, confusion, emotional pain, anger , and or disillusionment. It takes time to heal, and often the OTD survivors will need to find a licensed mental health professional who not only understand the issues of working with survivors of child abuse, yet also someone who has experience working with ex-cult members.
The truth is that with time many of the negative feelings will disappear and will be replaced with happiness, joy, a sense of peace, being able to trust again –– along with the ability to think for ones self independently.
YES at times the pain may feel unbearable, yet with time, patience and as an OTD survivor learns how trust again, develops healthy friendships and builds a new support system –– the feelings will lesson and the survivor will be able to live life outside of the quasi-frum world.